I have to start out with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) as they were the first to introduce Freestyle Cruising, which meant a break from traditional dress codes and dining options on cruise ships, to a flexible option. So the first major change was that you did not have to dine at 6 or 8 pm You could choose to dine anytime between 5 pm and 10 pm Another big difference was that you did not have to sit at the same table, with the same people every night. Some vacationers really enjoy meeting new people, but other, myself included like to have some romantic time in a table for two. Norwegian also began offering a selection of restaurants. Some ships offer up to 13 dinner options. Not all are free, but many are. Experienced cruisers know that sometimes you are just not in the mood for what is on the menu in the main dining room. On NCL you can choose Italian, Mexican, a steakhouse and more. Five restaurants are currently free of charge, the others range from $ 10 to $ 20 per person.
Carnival Cruise Line calls their dining options "Your Choice Dining." You can select the traditional early seating at 6 pm or the late dining at 8:15 pm or you can choice Your Time Dining. With this option you show up at the dining room anytime between 5:45 and 9:30 pm There are no reservations required. It is possible you will have to wait a bit for a specific table size, such as a table for 2. Most Carnival ships now have a steakhouse, sushi bar and European Style cafe. The new Carnival Dream which debuts this September, will have more dining options than any other Carnival ship. One new venue will be "The Gathering," which is a two-level eatery offering breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. It will offer Italian, Asian, Mongolian, Tex-Mex and new choices including a pasta and burrito bar. where you can make your own custom dishes from their selection of meats and accompaniments.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCI) announced earlier this year enhancements to their dining program. In addition to main and second seating, there are 2 new plans: My Time Dining and My Family Time Dining. As with other cruise lines flexible plans, you will not have a preassigned table in the main dining room. The difference is RCI will allow you to make reservations or you can choose to arrive at whatever time you want. For those with children ages 3 to 11, the My Family Time Dining will offer an expedited 40 minute dinner during the main seating dining. Then around 6:45, a youth counselor will come to gather the kids that want to go back to the kids club for evening activities. This is a great program, as I cruise with my two nieces each year, and it never fails that in the middle of dinner, my sister has to get up and take the kids to the Adventure Ocean Club, and by the time she gets back her dinner is cold or gone from the table. This new program ensures parents will enjoy their dinner and children can get to the kids club to enjoy their time as well. Royal Caribbean requires that guests pre-pay gratuities if they elect these flexible dining options. This means you will pay the gratuities at the time you pay the final payment for your cruise.
Princess Cruise Line
Princess also offers traditional dining at 6 or 8:30 pm Their other option is called "Personal Choice Dining." You can also make reservations at the same time each day, or you can show up at the dining room when you are ready to eat. If you like your waiter, you can reserve the same table each night of the cruise by speaking to the Maitre D '. As with Royal Caribbean, Princess automatically charges gratuities of $ 10 per day per guest for those that have Personal Choice Dining to be shared among wait staff. However, it is charged to your ship board account, rather than having to pay up front like RCI.
I applaud cruise lines for giving vacationers options. Some people really look forward to sitting at a large table at the same time every night and meeting people from all over the world. They also enjoy the fact that the waiters get to know their likes and dislikes during the cruise. Others prefer the private time for two. The only draw back about dining at any time, is perhaps having to wait for a table for 20 to 30 minutes during peak dining times if you did not pre-reserve a table, but how many of us have waited in line our favorite restaurant?